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Our society has an unhealthy obsession with youth: We idealize naivete and innocence, confuse "beauty" with "still getting through puberty," and focus our most profitable entertainment on satisfying the whims of people who are, at the end of the day, babies. It's probably because our society is getting older and going through a midlife crisis, which means it'll break down and buy a bright yellow sports car any day now.

So society idolizes all the major milestones that happen in the first two decades of your life, like losing your virginity, getting your driver's license, and being able to drink, but it skips over most of the major milestones that happen after that -- even though they're way more important. Stuff like ...

5
The First Time You Aren't Ashamed of Your Groceries

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Like every college student, I survived on a steady diet of frozen pizza, light beer, and surely some third thing (there has to have been a third thing). Which is fine, because 20-year-old me was like some weird combination of Pac-Man and the guy from Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece, in that I put weird stuff in my mouth all day and never suffered any consequences. But I also felt like my shopping habits were ... wrong, somehow.

To be clear, my groceries never bothered me at home, because I could just close the door to my cupboards and, like magic, look like a real person who knew how to feed himself. The only time my groceries were actually shameful was in the checkout counter, when I piled my boxes and cans onto the Conveyor Belt of Truth and stood in judgment of Cashier Lady Doris. Back home, I could hide my shame, but Doris saw me for what I really was: a soft, smelly sack of pizza, beer, and whatever that third thing was (vegetables, maybe? That doesn't sound right) who, through the dark magic of youth, hadn't collapsed and died from malnutrition in the past week.

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Did you know vitamins aren't just a candy company with a Flintstones license, but something you need to live?

Until one day (and it wasn't even that long ago) I loaded my purchases onto the conveyor belt and saw ... well, beer, yes, but also tomato paste, and raw meat, and vegetables that weren't even in a package. That's the difference between the stuff I used to buy and actual groceries. My purchases were no longer a collection of individual meals, but items that could be assembled into a meal, at a later date, by me. And that's the essence of maturity: sacrificing convenience and instant gratification (a quick, frozen meal that will make you feel shitty later) for long-term satisfaction (something you have to put effort into cooking but tastes good and won't launch an insurgency against the oppressive regime of your digestive tract).

For the first time, I could stand in front of the cashier's judging eyes, smile widely, look Doris in the eye, and say- Easy Cheese! That's what the third thing was. You put it on Ritz crackers, and, man, that shit's divine.

Kraft
The fact that they can legally call it "cheese" and not "cheez" makes me trust it more.

4
The First Time You Forget It's Friday Night

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There's a point where the song "Working for the Weekend" by Loverboy became the theme song of my life, and that point was right around the time when I got my first job and the movie Zoolander came out. Friday wasn't just the one day of the week named after the queen of Asgard, but the one source of constant glory in my life. Monday through Thursday were spent in bated anticipation of its sweet release, and Saturday and Sunday were my refractory period, but Friday was the day my entire life revolved around, because it was my day off. I would no more forget about Friday because of work than I would forget to enjoy a pizza's topping because the crust was so good.

DiGiorno
Dammit, there's an exception for everything, isn't there?

Until ... that day. The day I was sitting at my computer, taking care of some stuff, and suddenly realized that I had left my phone in my jacket pocket. But that's OK, because who's going to be calling me with anything important? It was only Thursday -- or so I thought. I took care of some chores, organized emails, and then dicked around on Netflix. "Why not?" I thought, "there's nothing else to do on this, the Thursiest of Days."

Marvel Studios
Don't look so mad. Your day is kinda shitty, but you've got a pretty sweet costume. Uniform! I meant uniform.

It wasn't until I fished my phone out of my jacket pocket to set my alarm for the morning that I saw the texts (dozens of them, some with SMS images of boobs) and realized my mistake -- but that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was realizing that I didn't mind, because I was kinda looking forward to finishing A Dance With Dragons and, besides, it was nice to know that I had gotten my student loan payments in early. And speaking of student loans, there's also ...

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3
The First Time You're Proud of Something You Do With Money

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A few nights ago I awoke drenched in a cold sweat and struck with a terrible realization: I was a sellout. A goon. I had high-fived a friend of mine over some money I had made. And not even money for doing some cool job or pulling off some crazy stunt with a motorcycle and a shark, but just for paying off a loan. How did this happen? Wait, this seems familiar ...

Severin Films
How did I become Rod from Birdemic?

When I was a kid and my understanding of the world was being shaped, I heard a lot of stuff about money -- mostly cliches, like "money is the root of all evil" and "money won't bring you happiness" and "love don't co$t a thing." And the thing is, while that shit's true, it's misleading, because even though money isn't the end-all, be-all of your existence, you're going to spend way more time thinking about it than you expect. Even at the best of times, when you feel like you have a grip on your life, it's still like having a really badly behaved puppy: take your eyes off for even half a second, and it'll shit all over your life. Then grow gigantic legs and kick your ass out onto the street.

Photos.com
"This is my home now."

It becomes a constant struggle, a game with massive stakes -- and like any game, you get happy when you "win." And in this case, "win" means "pay off some debt" or even "get your rent in on time." And since you're dealing with this all the time and hanging out with people in the same economic bracket as you, you start to commiserate. When you have a good victory, you celebrate. And what's the best way to celebrate? A high-five. So I do that. That's who I am now. A man who celebrates money stuff with high-fives. And I can never go back.

2
The First Time You Can't Remember Why You Believe Something That's Really Important to You

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I collect controversial political opinions the way other people collect Pokemon. The only real difference is that instead of playing a strategic card game with my friends, I spent college making enemies with the Student Government -- which is way easier than making enemies with the actual government, whom I'm told own guns and actually matter. Also like Pokemon, I spent a lot of time "setting up my build" or, in this case, researching: I read a lot of economic, political, and philosophical texts. I wanted to sound coherent and intelligent in my arguments, because I was having them all the time.

Nintendo
What I'm saying is this was me, the only difference being that I've never played Pokemon in my life
and I don't know what any of those creatures are called.

But then college ended, and I got a real job, and suddenly my responsibility wasn't to go to a room and half-listen to an incredibly smart person who was being paid to tolerate me explain some of the most complicated and nuanced ideas ever developed in human history. In fact, my responsibilities didn't involve bettering myself at all. They involved doing things for "other people," a group whose existence I had, until then, been only dimly aware of. I quickly learned that if I wanted to learn, grow, and better myself, I'd have to do it on my own time.

So I stopped bettering myself, because I had fucking video games to play, and that's where the Pokemon comparison stops working: In Pokemon, when you're not using your Squirtlezard, you can put him in a ball in your bag and forget about him until you need him again. If you whip him back out days, weeks, or even years later, he'll be in tip-top shape and ready to fight again. Opinions aren't like that. If you neglect them, they start to die.

Nintendo
This is not an accurate analogy for my thoughts on the influence of John Maynard Keynes.

My point is that, while I still have strong opinions about the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, the role of union labor in our country's development, and whatever a "permanent revolution" is -- I have no fucking idea why. I remember owning books that talked about that stuff, and I remember thinking, "Yeah, that makes a ton of sense! I'm going to reshape my worldview based on this information!" But I have no idea at all what that information was, or even the names of the books. I just have to trust that 19-, 20-, and 21-year-old me was being rational and thinking his opinions through and, fuck, that's seeming like a worse idea every second.

But even now, realizing that a lot of my opinions aren't backed up, I'm still not going to check myself, because I don't have time. I need to research the articles I'm getting paid for, and I'm gonna be moving soon, and I haven't called my dad in forever ... and speaking of complaints ...

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1
The First Time You Realize Your Problems Aren't Unique to You

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One of those weird memories that sticks in my brain for no immediately obvious reason is from my junior year of college, when my friend told me, "OK, I've sorted out my class schedule. Now I just need to balance my work life with my personal life." It seemed weird because she stated that like it's something you can just do, like it belongs on an itemized list -- but if it does, it's right below "figure out how to manage relationships properly" and right above "earn your dad's respect." I mean that it's a real problem, but it's one of those things that everyone, everywhere, has to deal with. Forever.

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Awww, look how complicated and painful that relationship will always be, no matter fucking what!

Then I started noticing that everyone was saying stuff like that: kids babble about how they're having trouble with calculus, Jon Snow in that episode of Game of Thrones bitches about the fact that he's the only one to have to deal with family problems to another character on a show that's entirely about family problems. It was irritating until I realized that I do the same thing: I was talking to my uncle about whiskey, and I said that my favorite was Jameson, but I couldn't afford it, and he laughed and said, "Yeah, everyone would buy Jameson if they could afford it."

Then I realized what an idiot I had been. Partly because Laphroaig is superior to Jameson in every conceivable way, but also because I had assumed that I had any problems, any at all, that were unique to me. I had thought that I could never look at something in my life and think "No one else has to deal with this shit!" and not be hopelessly, hilariously, fucktardedly wrong.

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You're never more ashamed of anything than your youthful opinions of hard alcohol.

Pick the big thing fucking up your life right now. Doesn't matter if it's something that everyone has to deal with, like situational social anxiety, or something more rare and difficult to explain, like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. There are dozens, hundreds, maybe even billions of people who have dealt with it before you. Instead of feeling ashamed, feel liberated. Your problems are still big, and important, and it totally makes sense to feel overwhelmed. But once you realize that there are thousands of people at any given time going through the exact same thing, and that there are all kinds of ways to find them, you'll also realize that you never have to feel alone again.

Sure, it makes you less of a unique and special little messianic snowflake, but it also really takes the load off. Plus, not being unique means you don't have to sacrifice yourself for the good of humanity in the third act.


J.F. Sargent dispenses wisdom on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Also dick jokes. Mainly the dick thing, really.

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